** Massive SPOILERS ahead!
The film begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) waking up in a fallout shelter after she was involved in a car accident. There are two men in the shelter with her, Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who are the only people who have any knowledge of what happened on the surface while she was unconscious and why they are in an underground bunker. For most of the film, we have a suspenseful, psychological thriller about Michelle trying to determine whether or not Howard is telling the truth about the world above. Howard and Emmet both agree that some sort of apocalyptic event occurred, but Michelle of course cannot know who to trust. Michelle later finds evidence that Howard murdered a young woman in the shelter who he had claimed earlier to be his daughter, after which Michelle and Emmett plot their escape from the bunker to get away from the clearly dangerous Howard. I spent most of the movie thinking that Howard was nice deep down and just socially awkward in a way that made him seem like he was insane, and I was expecting Emmett, who seemed nice and friendly, to turn out to be a killer. But I was completely wrong—Emmett was as he seemed all along. I love it when a movie proves my theories wrong. Overall, I loved the film, however, it is not without a problem, namely the very end of the movie.
Since most of the film involves Michelle trying to determine the truth of what Howard was saying and what had actually happened to the above world, it seems that a story based on this question should end when this question is answered. I think the film should have ended right after Michelle escaped the shelter and then discovered evidence of some sort of apocalyptic event. Ending here would have answered the main questions of the film, but instead we get a tense chase sequence with Michelle trying to evade the overwhelming alien forces who then try to exterminate her (sadly, it’s not the Daleks). The problem with this sequence where Michelle has to escape the aliens is that it was thrown in after the primary storyline was already resolved. It may have worked better if the aliens were introduced earlier, but the aliens felt unnecessary and underdeveloped when they appeared after the story had already focused on Howard and the bunker.
I’ve heard a lot of people argue that horror movies should always try to maintain ambivalence regarding the ending, but I don’t think this is always necessary for a good horror movie. I did not mind the reveal of what had actually happened in the world above. In this case, I liked finding out that there was an alien invasion, though, since this is a loose sequel to Cloverfield, most of us had probably guessed that it was aliens. The problem was not the reveal that aliens were responsible, the problem was that the movie kept going after we already reached a satisfying conclusion to the film. When I first watched 10 Cloverfield Lane, I wasn’t bothered by the film having what was basically two endings. I even chatted with some of my friends and agreed with them that it didn’t detract from the movie. I still do not think it is a big problem for the film as a whole, however, I started to like the ending less and less the more I thought about how good the movie could have been if the film had ended just after Michelle escaped the shelter. More specifically, the moment we heard the birds the film should have rolled the credits.
This last sequence with the aliens also reveals another problem with the movie that I may have overlooked had it not been exaggerated until the “second ending”: Michelle gets increasingly lucky as she escapes from the aliens. It becomes almost absurd when the massive alien ship is about to get her, and she just happens to find alcohol in the car seat next to her and was then able to make a Molotov cocktail and escape. For most of the movie, Michelle is shown to be relying on her own wits and skill to survive: when she makes the hazmat suit while still trapped in the bunker, she planned it out and spent time working on it, gathering the items required to make it and then keeping it a secret. But in this last sequence it becomes less about her wits and skill and more about her luck. I think what makes finding the alcohol in the car different from many of the other things in the film that could be considered “lucky” is that finding the alcohol does not center around her creativity. Her experience may have felt lucky if she had found all the items for the hazmat suit and made it with only minutes left to live, and to a degree, the luck factor did come into play when Michelle was avoiding being caught making the suit. However, her luckiness was not the center of attention overall with the hazmat suit, but with the bottle of alcohol her luckiness was definitely the focus and was only marginally better than having her find a hand grenade.
Here’s what I would have liked to see at the end if we are including the alien reveal rather than rolling credits right after Michelle leaves the shelter: the film shows Michelle escape the shelter. She looks around and hears the birds, then we see the presence of an alien invasion. She says, “Oh crap,” or something (if JJ is reading this, I can co-write your next film with you if you want more brilliant dialogue like this) and then runs to the car and gets on the road, and she hears the radio broadcast explaining the resistance and giving her the choice to join then. She still chooses to go help in the fight because she has all the required combat experience from escaping Howard; we didn’t really need to see her do this combat with the aliens, the film had already given us enough to buy her choice to go help in the fight. This would have been the perfect ending for me: it would conclude the main questions of the film, reveal the apocalypse rather than leave it in ambiguity, and we would see a great character arc with Michelle choosing to go help. Plus, we’d get a hopeful ending with room for another Cloverfield movie.
The ending of this film makes me wonder why it even needed to be a Cloverfield film. It definitely helped with marketing, but this issue could have been solved by actually promoting the film instead of letting people know about it until a month or so before it came out. I think this movie would have been just as great or even better as a standalone film, however, my thoughts on this movie’s connection to Cloverfield cannot be answered quite yet. In the end, it will be determined by what they do next and if they connect this one to future movies or not. Maybe they could go out and make another awesome Cloverfield movie that follows this one—a dope war movie about the human resistance. It could even feature Michelle again. If this is what they do in the future, then I would be happy that they connected 10 Cloverfield Lane to Cloverfield. However, if they do nothing in the Cloverfield franchise following this, or if there’s a “heroes on both sides” storyline in the next film, then I think it would have been best if it had been just a standalone film. We’ll see what happens, although I’d be surprised if they don’t follow it with another film.
Overall, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a fantastic film. Even after my criticisms of the ending, it is probably my favorite horror film in years. The problems with the ending really did not negate the rest of the film in my opinion, I just would have been ever-so-slightly happier if they had done it the way that I suggested instead.